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Home Ask A REL What does the research say about evidence-based practices to best support a K–12 school district’s approach to supporting and enhancing the social-emotional well-being of students?

What does the research say about evidence-based practices to best support a K–12 school district’s approach to supporting and enhancing the social-emotional well-being of students?

Midwest | April 01, 2018

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on evidence-based practices to best support the social-emotional well-being of K–12 students. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Bavarian, N., Lewis, K. M., DuBois, D. L., Acock, A., Vuchinich, S., Silverthorn, N., … Flay, B. R. (2013). Using social-emotional and character development to improve academic outcomes: A matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled trial in low-income, urban schools. Journal of School Health, 83(11), 771–779. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Background: School-based social-emotional and character development (SECD) programs can influence not only SECD but also academic-related outcomes. This study evaluated the impact of one SECD program, Positive Action (PA), on educational outcomes among low-income, urban youth. Methods: The longitudinal study used a matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled design. Student-reported disaffection with learning and academic grades, and teacher ratings of academic ability and motivation were assessed for a cohort followed from grades 3 to 8. Aggregate school records were used to assess standardized test performance (for entire school, cohort, and demographic subgroups) and absenteeism (entire school). Multilevel growth-curve analyses tested program effects. Results: PA significantly improved growth in academic motivation and mitigated disaffection with learning. There was a positive impact of PA on absenteeism and marginally significant impact on math performance of all students. There were favorable program effects on reading for African American boys and cohort students transitioning between grades 7 and 8, and on math for girls and low-income students. Conclusions: A school-based SECD program was found to influence academic outcomes among students living in low-income, urban communities. Future research should examine mechanisms by which changes in SECD influence changes in academic outcomes.”

Bierman, K. L., Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., Lochman, J. E., McMahon, R. J., Pinderhughes, E. (2010). The effects of a multiyear universal social-emotional learning program: The role of student and school characteristics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 156–168. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Objective: This article examines the impact of a universal social-emotional learning program, the Fast Track PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum and teacher consultation, embedded within the Fast Track selective prevention model. Method: The longitudinal analysis involved 2,937 children of multiple ethnicities who remained in the same intervention or control schools for Grades 1, 2, and 3. The study involved a clustered randomized controlled trial involving sets of schools randomized within 3 U.S. locations. Measures assessed teacher and peer reports of aggression, hyperactive-disruptive behaviors, and social competence. Beginning in first grade and through 3 successive years, teachers received training and support and implemented the PATHS curriculum in their classrooms. Results: The study examined the main effects of intervention as well as how outcomes were affected by characteristics of the child (baseline level of problem behavior, gender) and by the school environment (student poverty). Modest positive effects of sustained program exposure included reduced aggression and increased prosocial behavior (according to both teacher and peer report) and improved academic engagement (according to teacher report). Peer report effects were moderated by gender, with significant effects only for boys. Most intervention effects were moderated by school environment, with effects stronger in less disadvantaged schools, and effects on aggression were larger in students who showed higher baseline levels of aggression. Conclusions: A major implication of the findings is that well-implemented multiyear social-emotional learning programs can have significant and meaningful preventive effects on the population-level rates of aggression, social competence, and academic engagement in the elementary school years.”

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development 82, 405–432. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. School teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs. The use of 4 recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes. The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence-based SEL programming into standard educational practice.”

Fehrer, K., & Leos-Urbel, J. (2015). Oakland Unified School District community schools: Understanding implementation efforts to support students, teachers, and families. Stanford, CA: John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2010, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) launched an initiative to transform all district schools into full service community schools. The community school design provides integrated supports to students and fosters a school climate conducive to academic, social, and emotional learning. Interventions span in-school and out-of-school time, and include students’ families, to ensure that all students have the supports needed to be ready to learn and to develop the skills, habits, and mindsets that provide a foundation for academic and social success. These supports are delivered in strategic partnerships with community-based organizations, and coordinated through various structures including a Community School Manager at each school. As OUSD continues to scale community school implementation, leaders want to document and assess their current efforts with an eye to improving policies and practices that will help all schools reach the initiative’s goals. This report and four related briefs present findings from the first year of a planned three-year collaboration between OUSD and the Gardner Center to study the district’s community schools, drawing on qualitative interviews with key stakeholders in five community schools as well as analysis of district administrative data.”

Jones, S. M., & Kahn, J. (2017). The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “‘The Evidence Base for How We Learn: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’ articulates the scientific consensus regarding how people learn. The research brief presents a set of consensus statements—developed and unanimously signed onto by the Commission’s Council of Distinguished Scientists—that affirm the interconnectedness of social, emotional, and academic development as central to the learning process. The brief draws from brain science, medicine, economics, psychology, and education research to describe why it is essential to address the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning; how these dimensions together shape students’ academic and life outcomes; and how these competencies can be taught throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond. The evidence outlined in this brief moves the nation beyond the debate as to ‘whether’ schools should attend to students’ social and emotional development, to ‘how’ schools can integrate social, emotional, and academic development into their daily work.”

Kendziora, K., & Yoder, N. (2016). When districts support and integrate social and emotional learning (SEL): Findings from an ongoing evaluation of districtwide implementation of SEL. Education Policy Center at American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Issue: Students need more than just academic knowledge to succeed in college, careers, and personal and public life. They need to understand their own skills and abilities, manage their emotions and behavior, communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, care about others, and make responsible decisions. Social and emotional skills undergird student success—and build better citizens. When such skills are intentionally taught, practiced, and reinforced in schools, students have better behavioral, social, and academic outcomes. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is increasingly accepted by educators and researchers as a process to cultivate life skills that foster personal development, academic achievement, and a more empathic school climate. SEL has been integrated into classes and taught in many schools, but the challenge for educators and policy makers is to better understand the most effective strategies for districtwide implementation. The Research: Research on students who participated in some form of SEL instruction has found short-and long-term benefits in student outcomes, with most research focusing on elementary and middle grade programs. Each of eight districts received annual grants of $250,000 for up to 6 years. This amount represents less than 0.04% of the average CDI district’s annual budget for all expenses (this average excludes Chicago’s budget, which is larger than the other seven CDI district budgets combined). Even with this modest investment, the research shows that districts improved each year in implementing key SEL activities. Three of the measured districts showed consistent gains in school climate; four of six measured districts showed improvement in third graders’ social and emotional competence; and, across the eight districts, GPA improved in four and discipline improved in six. However, other student outcomes (e.g., middle and high schoolers’ social and emotional competence and student attendance) have not shown significant change to date. The Recommendations: Although many preschool through high school teachers—as well as college faculty and administrators, employers, parents, and students themselves—understand the potential benefits of cultivating social and emotional development, few have the time or support to enable students to build social and emotional competencies. State, district, and school leaders should consider making SEL a priority. Doing so would entail implementing policies, standards, and guidance that support teachers and administrators to integrate SEL with academic instruction. Support is also extended to fostering best practices in behavior management, discipline, and school climate that promote healthy, safe, and nurturing environments for all students. Based on findings from this study and others, even modest investments in SEL can pay off for individuals, schools, and society.”

Marin, P., & Brown, B. (2008). The school environment and adolescent well-being: Beyond academics. Research Brief. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Adolescents spend a large proportion of their day in school or pursuing school-related activities. While the primary purpose of school is the academic development of students, its effects on adolescents are far broader, also encompassing their physical and mental health, safety, civic engagement, and social development. Further, its effects on all these outcomes are produced through a variety of activities including formal pedagogy, after-school programs, caretaking activities (e.g., feeding, providing a safe environment) as well as the informal social environment created by students and staff on a daily basis. While most reports focus on a particular aspect of the school environment (e.g., academics, safety, health promotion), this brief looks at schools more comprehensively as an environment affecting multiple aspects of adolescent development. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the interconnectedness of the pieces, with safety and health affecting the academic environment, academics affecting health and social development, and so on. For that reason, any particular aspect of school policy and activities will be better understood through the lens of that larger context. This is particularly important as school systems have become even more pressured to focus on their main goal of academic development as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind initiative. This brief is designed to be of particular interest to school principals, district staff, and others who are responsible for all aspects of school functioning. It should also be useful to those focusing on a narrower range of school functions (e.g., academics, health and safety, civic development) who want a better sense of how their concerns fit into the larger environment. This brief present national estimates from a variety of sources on the school environment of adolescents in the areas of health, safety, social support, academics, and civic engagement.”

Merrell, K. W., & Gueldner, B. A. (2010). Social and emotional learning in the classroom: Promoting mental health and academic success. New York, NY: Guilford Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This highly engaging, eminently practical book provides essential resources for implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) in any K-12 setting. Numerous vivid examples illustrate the nuts and bolts of this increasingly influential approach to supporting students’ mental health, behavior, and academic performance. Helpful reproducibles are included. The authors offer clear-cut guidance on how to: (1) Choose the right SEL program for a particular school; (2) Teach SEL concepts to students, teachers, and administrators; (3) Weave SEL into the classroom curriculum to boost academic success; (4) Adapt interventions for culturally and linguistically diverse students and those with special needs; and Monitor outcomes and maximize the quality of interventions. Contents include: (1) Social and Emotional Learning: What It Is, and What It Can Do for Your Students; (2) Social and Emotional Learning Curricula: A Review of Selected Programs; (3) The Essentials of Using Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom; (4) Using Social and Emotional Learning to Foster Academic Learning; (5) One Size Does Not Fit All: Adapting Social and Emotional Learning for Use in Our Multicultural World, with Sara Castro-Olivo; (6) When Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom Is Not Enough: Linking Students to Mental Health Services; (7) Assessment and Evaluation Strategies in Social and Emotional Learning; and (8) Using Social and Emotional Learning within School Systems: Organizational Dynamics and Strategic Planning.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

O’Conner, R., De Feyter, J., Carr, A., Luo, J. L., & Romm, H. (2017). A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3-8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (Part 1 of 4). REL 2017-245. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process by which children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. This is the first in a series of four related reports about what is known about SEL programs for students ages 3-8. The report series addresses four issues raised by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance: characteristics of effective SEL programs (part 1), implementation strategies and state and district policies that support SEL programming (part 2), teacher and classroom strategies that contribute to social and emotional learning (part 3), and outcomes of social and emotional learning among different student populations and settings (part 4). This report identifies key components of effective SEL programs and offers guidance on selecting programs.”

Payton, J., Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B., & Pachan, M. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report summarizes results from three large-scale reviews of research on the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs on elementary and middle-school students—that is, programs that seek to promote various social and emotional skills. Collectively the three reviews included 317 studies and involved 324,303 children. SEL programs yielded multiple benefits in each review and were effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems. They were also effective across the K-8 grade range and for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings. SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Comparing results from these reviews to findings obtained in reviews of interventions by other research teams suggests that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs offered to school-age youth. Furthermore, school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) carried out SEL programs effectively, indicating that they can be incorporated into routine educational practice. In addition, SEL programming improved students’ achievement test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit. Given these positive findings, we recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs during and after school.”

Ruby, A., & Doolittle, E. (2010). Efficacy of schoolwide programs to promote social and character development and reduce problem behavior in elementary school children: (NCER 2011-2001). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Division of Violence Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation of programs aimed at improving students’ behavior. For this evaluation, such programs were termed Social and Character Development (SACD) programs. Seven programs were evaluated, and all were coherent in that their activities were integrated and logically organized based on a theory of action (that differed among the programs), school-based in that they were implemented in the schools by school personnel, and universal in that they were to be implemented for all students in all elementary classrooms in a school. This report provides the results from the evaluation of the seven SACD programs on one cohort of students as they moved from third through fifth grades starting in fall 2004 and ending in spring 2007. The evaluation examined the effects on these students of the seven programs, together and separately, after 1, 2, and 3 school years and also estimated the impact on students’ growth in social and character development over the 3 years. Chapter 1 discusses the evaluation of the programs when considered together and provides summary results for each program. Chapters 2 through 8 detail the findings for each of the programs individually.”

Snyder, F., Flay, B., Vuchinich, S., Acock, A., Washburn, I., Beets, M., & Li, K.-K. (2010). Impact of a social-emotional and character development program on school-level indicators of academic achievement, absenteeism, and disciplinary outcomes: A matched-pair, cluster randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 3(1), 26–55. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article reports the effects of a comprehensive elementary school-based social-emotional and character education program on school-level achievement, absenteeism, and disciplinary outcomes utilizing a matched-pair, cluster-randomized, controlled design. The ‘Positive Action’ Hawai’i trial included 20 racially/ethnically diverse schools (M enrollment = 544) and was conducted from the 2002-03 through the 2005-06 academic years. Using school-level archival data, analyses comparing change from baseline (2002) to 1-year posttrial (2007) revealed that intervention schools scored 9.8% better on the TerraNova (2nd ed.) test for reading and 8.8% on math, that 20.7% better in Hawai’i Content and Performance Standards scores for reading and 51.4% better in math, and that intervention schools reported 15.2% lower absenteeism and fewer suspensions (72.6%) and retentions (72.7%). Overall, effect sizes were moderate to large (range = 0.5-1.1) for all of the examined outcomes. Sensitivity analyses using permutation models and random-intercept growth curve models substantiated results. The results provide evidence that a comprehensive school-based program, specifically developed to target student behavior and character, can positively influence school-level achievement, attendance, and disciplinary outcomes concurrently.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school-based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta-analysis of follow-up effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156–1171. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This meta-analysis reviewed 82 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions involving 97,406 kindergarten to high school students (M[subscript age] = 11.09 years; mean percent low socioeconomic status = 41.1; mean percent students of color = 45.9). Thirty-eight interventions took place outside the United States. Follow-up outcomes (collected 6 months to 18 years postintervention) demonstrate SEL’s enhancement of positive youth development. Participants fared significantly better than controls in social-emotional skills, attitudes, and indicators of well-being. Benefits were similar regardless of students’ race, socioeconomic background, or school location. Postintervention social-emotional skill development was the strongest predictor of well-being at follow-up. Infrequently assessed but notable outcomes (e.g., graduation and safe sexual behaviors) illustrate SEL’s improvement of critical aspects of students’ developmental trajectories.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) –

From the website: “Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is the nation’s leading organization advancing the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students. Our mission is to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. Through research, practice and policy, CASEL collaborates to ensure all students become knowledgeable, responsible, caring and contributing members of society.”

CASEL offers resources on its website and online library –

CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs –


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Social emotion*

  • “social and emotional learning”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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